WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — New details are emerging about the inner workings of Stone Academy before the school’s abrupt closure in February.
Stone Academy abruptly closed its three campuses in East Hartford, Waterbury and West Haven in February, leaving more than 800 students in the dark. Students have filed suit against the school, and Connecticut Attorney General William Tong has launched an investigation into it.
On Wednesday, nursing instructors, students and a manager testified under oath during a prejudgment remedy hearing. The state is suing the owners of Stone Academy for unfair trade practices
The hearing was held virtually out of a Waterbury courtroom. Tong’s office is seeking to freeze the assets of Stone Academy before the case starts.
Wednesday, five witnesses were called on by the state, including Lauren Kuzara, a former nursing instructor who left Stone Academy in 2021.
“They very much became ‘profits over people,'” Kuzara said. “I was being asked to do things that were unethical. I did not feel comfortable working there anymore, and so I left.”
Kuzara also testified that she was concerned with the validity of nursing clinicals at the school. She said she was told to pad students’ clinical hours by then-Stone Academy administrator Joseph Bierbaum.
“Joe told us that he wanted us to round up the clinical time once the students had reached 73% of clinicals,” Kuzara said. “We were told to round up the times.”
Another nursing instructor, Shavon Russell, detailed a lack of lab supplies and the condition of the campus buildings she taught in.
“It was just odd the way it was set up,” she said. “There would be oftentimes leaking from the ceiling – we would all participate in getting garbage cans to get the leaking.”
Lisa Palmer, a former interim director of nursing at Stone Academy, testified about names she didn’t recognize on the payroll.
“There were names that I’ve never heard of or seen at all,” she said.
Assistant Attorney General Joseph Gasser then asked Palmer, “Did you have an understanding of who those people were or where they worked?”
Palmer simply replied, “No.”
When asked about the financial health of Stone Academy during her time there, Palmer said, “No one got raises. None of my teachers got raises for a long time.”
Bierbaum was also called on to testify. He was questioned about the millions in record profits made at Stone Academy during the course of the pandemic.
“The big swelling in those years was related to pandemic-era grant programs and things that were directed toward higher education,” Bierbaum said.
Bierbaum testified that he went on to address concerns by students in a 2021 survey about the quality of their education and whether instructors were qualified. He said those concerns were remediated and addressed. However, he continued to receive concerns from students as late as 2022.
The next hearing date has not been set.